Quite naturally, a piece from the Prime Minister claiming that welfare reform is ‘at the heart… of our social and moral mission in politics’ is provoking hilarity from those who’ve never backed that moral mission in the first place. David Cameron is writing in the Telegraph as a response to the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols’ comments in the same paper at the weekend that the government’s welfare reforms were a ‘disgrace’. He argues:
‘Of course, we are in the middle of a long and difficult journey turning our country around. That means difficult decisions to get our deficit down, making sure that the debts of this generation are not our children’s to inherit. But our welfare reforms go beyond that alone: they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.
‘Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan – and it is at the heart, too, of our social and moral mission in politics today.’
The Spectator devoted its cover to the moral need to reform the benefits system recently. But there is one thing that makes Cameron’s job – and that of his Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith – much harder. It is very hard to argue that welfare reform is a purely moral mission when the same policy area is ‘weaponised’ by colleagues. George Osborne has used welfare cuts that are very attractive to voters such as the benefit cap of £26,000 for workless families to make Labour so uncomfortable that the party now seeks only to neutralise welfare as a policy area, rather than being bold. But Osborne gives the impression that he now enjoys not just cutting benefits but caricaturing those on them – his images of closed curtains and false dichotomies between working and feckless suggest a strategist, not a reformer at work. Our leading article in January warned the Chancellor off showing too much relish when announcing new cuts.
It is difficult to argue that your sole aim with welfare is a moral one when you’re also toting it as a weapon.